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The Atacama Cosmology Telescope collaboration, which includes scientists from NIST, Unveils New Map of Dark Matter

Cup-shaped telescope structure surrounded by larger cup-shaped shield on a clear day.
View of the Atacama Cosmology Telescope in the desert of northern Chile.
Credit: Mark Devlin

A groundbreaking new image taken by the Atacama Cosmology Telescope (ACT) in Chile reveals the most detailed map ever taken of the distribution of dark matter across a quarter of the entire sky and far back in time. Dark matter, the invisible material believed to make up 85 percent of the mass of the cosmos, provides the gravitational glue that hold galaxies together and provides the scaffolding for the large-scale structure of the universe.

Ellipse with a cloudy gray interior and a streak of light appearing as an arch. Certain areas are blocked out in a pink and purple color. Text above reads: "ACT DR6 lensing."
A new map of dark matter compiled by the Atacama Cosmology Telescope. Orange indicates regions with the highest density of dark matter, purple the lowest. Typical features in the map are hundreds of millions of light-years across. The grey-white regions indicate places where dust in our Milky Way galaxy, measured by the Planck satellite, obscures the view.
Credit: ACT Collaboration

Members of the ACT collaboration reported their findings on April 11.

Researchers in the Quantum Sensors Group at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) designed and built four arrays of sensors for the telescope’s camera.  Because the telescope records faint emissions in the millimeter-wave portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, the NIST team developed specialized sensors, made up  of superconducting circuit elements that operate at a temperature just a fraction of a degree above absolute zero.  Reading these sensors requires multiplexed superconducting electronics, which NIST also provided.

The new map provides further support for Einstein’s theory of general relativity, which has been the foundation of the standard model of cosmology for more than a century. The map also offers new methods to elucidate the nature of dark matter, which remains a mystery.

For more information on how scientists at NIST collaborate with astronomers to explore the universe, see our Measuring the Cosmos site.

Released April 17, 2023, Updated May 19, 2023